It feels like November outside. Oh, I know there are still too many leaves on the trees to be November, and most of them are green still - but the wind, grey skies, cool but not frigid temperatures - that all feels so very November. One of my favorite months.
But not quite yet.
Even as we wash windows, do fall garden clean up, and unpack sweaters and mittens, the summer harvest still rolls in. Writing that reminds me that I haven't checked on the beans in the garden for a few days and I know there are plenty more to pick, blanch, and freeze. The beans got away from me this year. Beans are like that though. So bossy.
Having lost all of our plum tomatoes to late blight before they ripened, I knew I'd be on the look out for a good supply at a farmstand. I really wanted to make sauce for the winter, even if it meant buying tomatoes and not saving very many pennies compared to buying sauce from the store. But you know, it's nice to be certain of ingredients and such. You can feel best about that sort of thing when you make your own.
Last week I picked up 25 pounds of plum tomatoes from a nearby farm and had a chance to process them over the weekend. Originally I had planned to pressure can the sauce but in the end wound up freezing it in jars. I prefer frozen to canned anyway, but I am trying to keep more canned goods on hand for emergencies and convenience.
If you are looking to can tomato sauce, Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars wrote about the safety of doing so - interesting thoughts on that post and in the comments. I don't think I've mentioned it yet, but Marisa is one of my contributors for the upcoming session of Whole Food Kitchen! I have some details and thoughts about a variety of things to share on Friday (hopefully Friday), so I'll fill you in a bit more about that, and other contributors as well.
The secret to good tomato sauce is time. That is it, you can add any seasoning you'd like, but if you don't add time, you won't have great sauce. Well, if you like thick, rich sauce that is. Though I'm told true Italian sauce is on the watery side.
I don't have a recipe to share, I think that might be impossible when it comes to sauce, but I can offer a guide of sorts. If you were here in the kitchen with me, this is how we'd make tomato sauce. I don't measure when I cook, but this is generally how it would look if I did.
Tomato Sauce Tutorial
You will need:
- 25 pounds of plum tomatoes
- 2-3 large onions and 2 green peppers if you'd like, 4-6 cups combined (I prefer more onion than pepper)
- several glugs of extra virgin olive oil
- 1-2 heads of garlic (yep, whole heads - garlic is good)
- 3-4 teaspoons garlic powder (more garlic!)
- 1-3 tablespoons Italian Seasoning blend
- sea salt and black pepper to taste (for that amount of tomatoes, it may take a tablespoon or so of salt, don't be alarmed, it's a large batch)
- honey or sugar to cut acidity if needed - a few tablespoons or more
- 4 ounces tomato paste, optional - no need to think of it as cheating, it will really pull your sauce together nicely.
- 1 cup of freshly chopped basil to finish it off
- any other seasoning you'd like, such as chili flakes
- heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold the tomatoes
- blender (high powered, even better)
- food mill
- plenty of pint or quart sized jars - the number will depend on how reduced you like your sauce, my 25 pounds of tomatoes yielded 16 pints of sauce.
1. Gather and wash 25 pounds of plum tomatoes. Cut off stem ends and slice them into chunks.
2. Place all the tomatoes in a heavy-bottomed pot, large enough to hold the whole batch. (I just add in batches as I chop.) Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat (or slightly higher).
3. Stir and mash tomatoes with the back of your spoon.
4. Once the tomatoes are tender and the skins begin to slip away from the fruit, puree the potful in the blender, a few cups at a time. Be mindful to not fill a blender too much with hot food, and always hold the lid on with one hand. I fill mine about 1/3 of the way each time.
5. After you blend each batch, press it through a food mill to remove skins and seeds (have a bowl underneath to catch the goods). Take your time doing this, you don't want to leave precious tomato flesh behind, only skins and seeds. (You can sort of see my set up in the photo above.)
6. From here transfer the skin and seed free tomato sauce to a huge bowl.
7. Now it's time to saute the vegetables if you're using them. I prefer to dice them very fine, some people like their veggies chunky. Cook slowly over medium low heat. Just give the big pot a quick rinse first to remove any remaining skin and seeds clinging to the sides. Add olive oil, peppers and onions to the pot and saute gently for 5-7 minutes, until tender. Add the minced garlic, garlic powder, Italian Seasoning, some of the sea salt, and black pepper. Saute for another minute or two.
8. Add the strained tomato pulp back to the pot and bring to a low simmer, uncovered. Continue simmering for several hours, I've been known to simmer sauce for twelve hours. Once you are close to being satisfied with the sauce thickness, you can add the tomato paste, if using. Stir to dissolve.
9. Now begin to check the sauce for flavor. This may take time. Sweeten with honey or a bit of sugar if it's too acidic. Does it need salt? More garlic powder? Perhaps a glug or two of olive oil? Once you are close to the end, add the fresh basil. Ahh... turn off the heat and let it sit for about 30 minutes.
10. Fill clean canning jars, leaving an inch of space for expansion as it freezes. Leave the jars uncovered so they can cool for a little while. If you can, leave the jars in the refrigerator overnight to cool completely before freezing.
Freezing in jars
Freezing in glass is wonderful and feels much healthier than plastic. But a failed (broken) jar is such a bummer.
A few tips to minimize breakage:
- Allow food to cool completely before freezing.
- Food containing liquid will expand about 10% once frozen. Leave an inch at the top of your jars to allow for this.
- Use good quality canning jars. This glass is thick and tempered, able to withstand more pressure and temperature changes.
- If possible, use straight sided jars such as these. As the liquid expands when freezing, it is often the pressure against the "shoulder" (the part that curves in toward the neck) of the jar that is the point of breakage. A straight sided jar eliminates this stress point.
- Do not screw lids firmly on the jars until after the food inside is completely frozen. This helps to reduce pressure and create subtle space needed for the food to expand.
Using this method I have very little breakage when freezing in jars, at least 95% of the time there is zero breakage. All of the jars from this lovely batch remained nicely intact, leaving us lots of sauce to look forward to over the winter.
Download and Print - Tomato Sauce Tutorial
I know this is a lot to take in, but if you were here in the kitchen with me it wouldn't seem that way. I'd slowly talk you through it as we sipped wine and stirred sauce throughout the day. It wouldn't seen so overwhelming then, I promise.
I tried to write this out as if I was just explaining it over the phone to a friend. Feel free to pass it along to another friend as well.
I think many of us still have those last bushels of tomatoes to process, and with the cooler temperatures a day in the kitchen feels rather nice. Next up on my list - a full bushel of apples waits for me on the screen porch, and another round of picking still to come.
Oh September, you mark the beginning of my favorite time of year.